Author profile in Northerly
by Emma Ashmere
Here’s an author interview published in the May 2015 edition of Northerly, the magazine of The Byron Writers Festival.
Emma Ashmere talks about why and how she writes (and rewrites). She participated in the BWF residential mentorship program for emerging writers in 2010.
Q: Why do you write?
Because I can’t not.
Q: Do you have a routine for writing?
Admittedly, it can be a bit of a moveable feast, as I tend to write in isolated bursts. If for some reason I can’t get to the keyboard, a few minutes of doing something towards the project helps keep me connected to it – even if it’s just looking up what hats were all the rage in 1920s Sydney, ordering a book from the library, deciding on a character’s name, or scribbling illegible midnight notes.
Q: How has writing your second novel been different to writing your first?
It feels a bit like leaping into the void again – but a friendly void. I’m far less precious about what stays and what goes. Even if a sentence seems tight, it’s likely a thread will be pulled, all will unravel, and need to be knitted back together again.
Q: Do your novels change a lot between first draft and later drafts?
Yes, thankfully. The story I initially wanted to write is still there in the final draft. But some of the themes, plot lines, points of view, and characters might have expanded, while others will have fallen by the wayside. There have been several instances when it’s been necessary to cut whole chunks either because they were dead ends, overwritten, obsolete, or suddenly belonged in another book. This was daunting at the time, but it instantly opened up new space for fresh approaches and ideas.
Q: What are some common mistakes you see among emerging novel writers?
Because the best learning about writing happens when you write, mistakes are a necessary part of the apprenticeship. Until you’re underway, it can be hard to understand the time, patience, and resilience needed during the long and hilly path of writing, rewriting, and then (hopefully) feeling your way through the publication process. I’ve found it very helpful and heartening to go to writing events, festivals, workshops, writing groups, book clubs and launches, and to meet other writers and forge supportive connections with a wide range of people in the writing world. It’s also important to enjoy it.
Q: What do you find rewarding about teaching writing?
When I tutored ‘life writing’ at a Melbourne university, the continual reward was hearing about other people’s lives, which was always surprising, sometimes shocking and often inspiring. My aim was to be encouraging but realistic, to encourage constructive feedback of other students’ writing and their own, while passing on techniques to help people articulate what they wanted to say as clearly as possible – and in their own way. To see people shift from hesitancy to confidence over those weeks was fantastic. All the way through, the learning was very much a two way street.
Q: Who are some writers you admire?
There are too many to mention here – but some perennial favourites are: Ali Smith, Janet Frame, Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Patrick White, Hilary Mantel, E.L. Doctorow, Alexis Wright, Virginia Woolf, Donna Tartt, Eleanor Dark, Christina Stead and Deborah Levy because they somehow alchemise history, poetry, theory, absurdity, tragedy, politics and dream into fiction. And also Elizabeth Harrower because her psychological insights into seemingly ordinary people doing seemingly ordinary things arrive as sharply and stealthily as paper cuts.
Q: If there was one piece of advice you could give to someone about to embark on writing a novel, what would it be?
Read widely. And a lot.
This article was first published by Bryon Writers Festival 2015.
Emma’s short stories have been widely published including in The Age, Commonwealth Writers Magazine adda, Griffith Review, Overland, Review of Australian Fiction, Sleepers Almanac, and on three Brisbane billboards for #8wordstory. She was shortlisted for the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, 2019 Newcastle Short Story Prize, 2018 Overland/NUW Fair Australia Prize and 2001 Age Short Story Award. Her debut novel The Floating Garden was shortlisted for the 2016 Small Press Network MUBA prize. Her short story collection Dreams They Forgot will be published in September 2020 by Wakefield Press.